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Support mental health and well-being of K-12 students and staff during COVID-19

March 17, 2020 , By Alyssa Buccella, Senior Analyst, Strategic Research

Fear and stress resulting from the outbreak of coronavirus can be overwhelming for both adults and children. Regardless of current proximity to an outbreak, students may be overcome with many questions, fears, and anxieties, leaving teachers and parents to figure out how to support them while also managing their own emotions.

In addition to widespread uncertainty, the impact of a looming or recent school closure extends well beyond academics as students are faced with disruption from familiar routines and unexpectedly disengaging from a community of social support.

District leaders and heads of schools must be attentive to the effects of coronavirus on the mental health and well-being of students, teachers, and staff members. Education leaders can play a pivotal role in proactively providing resources to support the well-being of the school community, both virtually and in person.

Provide clear direction on how to talk with students about coronavirus

Although stressful, educators can have a simple and honest conversation with kids and adolescents about coronavirus, and proactively talk about how to keep fears realistic and manageable.

The resources below can help educators (and parents) talk with students about coronavirus in an age appropriate manner, review positive preventive practices that provide students with some sense of control, and reinforce media literacy skills as students are bombarded with information.

Emphasize the importance of self-care and healthy coping strategies for both adults and students

Regardless of age, experts recommend maintaining consistent routines, practicing healthy habits, taking regular breaks from news and media, and finding ways to remain connected to social networks and support.

Use the following resources and strategies to help teachers and students cope through this stressful period by incorporating them in classes, and widely distributing them on the district website, on social media, and over e-mail:

When self-care is not enough

Even with these strategies in mind, some adults, adolescents, and children may still have trouble coping with the effects of coronavirus. While elevated levels of stress and anxiety are currently widespread, the following groups are at increased risk for exacerbated symptoms:

  • People who have preexisting mental health conditions
  • Groups who may be experiencing stigma (e.g., persons of Asian descent, those who have recently traveled)
  • School health professionals who are helping with the response
  • Those with a loved one living in or helping with the response in an area where many people are sick

See the second part of this series for additional guidance on how districts can provide or facilitate counseling and mental health services amid school closures, and how you can leverage telemental health services to enhance capacity.

Alyssa Buccella

Alyssa is a Senior Analyst with EAB’s District Leadership Forum, working primarily with public school superintendents. Her research has focused on the achievement gap, with an emphasis on practical strategies to overcome the unique barriers low-income and minority students face on the path to post secondary education. More recently, her research has explored actionable ways that school districts can support the mental health and social-emotional well being of both early-elementary and adolescent students.

Prior to joining the District Leadership Forum, Alyssa worked as a research associate supporting EAB’s higher education member institutions in determining the feasibility of academic program creation, innovation, and expansion. She has completed customized research reports across a wide range of topics including data analytics, business, health professions, education, and more.

When Alyssa is not working with public school leaders, you can find her hiking or exploring the D.C. area with her puppy, River.

Alyssa holds a Master of Education degree in Comparative and International Education from Lehigh University, where she also received her bachelor’s degree in global studies and psychology.

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